Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989), who lived in Paris and wrote his plays and novels in French, not because his French was better than his English, but because it was worse. In works such as Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Molloy and Malone Dies, he wanted to show the limitations of language, what words could not do, together with the absurdity and humour of the human condition. In part he was reacting to the verbal omnipotence of James Joyce, with whom he’d worked in Paris, and in part to his experience in the French Resistance during World War 2, when he used code, writing not to reveal meaning but to conceal it.
Professor of English at the University of Cambridge
Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Exeter
Associate Professor in Modern Literature at the University of Reading and co-director of the Beckett International Foundation
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why, in 1870, the Vatican Council issued the decree ‘pastor aeternus’ which, among other areas, affirmed papal infallibility. It meant effectively that the Pope could not err in his teachings, an assertion with its roots in the early Church when the bishop of Rome advanced to being the first among equals, then overall head of the Christian Church in the West. The idea that the Pope could not err had been a double-edged sword from the Middle Ages, though; while it apparently conveyed great power, it also meant a Pope was constrained by whatever a predecessor had said. If a later Pope were to contradict an earlier Pope, then one of them must be wrong, and how could that be…if both were infallible?
Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham
Professor in Medieval History at the University of Reading
Departmental Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Oxford
Producer: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the planet Venus which is both the morning star and the evening star, rotates backwards at walking speed and has a day which is longer than its year. It has long been called Earth’s twin, yet the differences are more striking than the similarities. Once imagined covered with steaming jungles and oceans, we now know the surface of Venus is 450 degrees celsius, and the pressure there is 90 times greater than on Earth, enough to crush an astronaut. The more we learn of it, though, the more we learn of our own planet, such as whether Earth could become more like Venus in some ways, over time.
Public Astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy and Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge
Senior Research Fellow in Planetary Science at the University of Oxford
Professor of Physics at Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London
Produced by: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
The Poor Laws
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, from 1834, poor people across England and Wales faced new obstacles when they could no longer feed or clothe themselves, or find shelter. Parliament, in line with the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus, feared hand-outs had become so attractive, they stopped people working to support themselves, and encouraged families to have more children than they could afford. To correct this, under the New Poor Laws it became harder to get any relief outside a workhouse, where families would be separated, husbands from wives, parents from children, sisters from brothers. Many found this regime inhumane, while others protested it was too lenient, and it lasted until the twentieth century.
The image above was published in 1897 as New Year's Day in the Workhouse.
Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia
Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Lincoln
Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Leicester
Producer: Simon Tillotson